Meet Jeremy, a junior in my Spanish II class. (OK, his name really isn’t Jeremy. But that doesn’t surprise you, does it?)
Jeremy lives in the rural, low-income school district where I teach. He plays football and wrestles.
He’s just about the easiest guy to get along with you’ll ever meet – a guy that will treat anybody like a real person. Even a teacher.
However, for some reason – which I just absolutely can’t fathom – he’s not nearly as interested in Spanish as I am. Shocking, huh?
Sometimes he pays attention well – eyes forward, watching and listening – when I talk.
Other times, his head is hidden behind the flat-screen monitors protruding from all of my student desks. Not sure if he’s sleeping, resting his eyes or paying attention to me. (Probably one of the first two, I usually guess.)
Other times, he has a Sudoku puzzle out on his desk. I’ll be talking in Spanish – asking students questions, talking about things I think they’re interested in or creating a story with them in Spanish. And Jeremy’s there. He’s just looking at his Sudoku puzzle.
I’ve lost several Jeremys in my teaching career.
I’ve drown them in a sea of practice questions, irrelevant printed dialogues and verb conjugation drills.
They’ve departed from foreign language land with little to no desire to ever return.
The problem with this is that these are the ones we really must reach as educators.
This exchange, from an article on the Mind/Shift KQED website, illustrates it well. It’s between Joe Redish, a physics professor at the University of Maryland, and Lewis Elton, a famous physicist and one of his mentors. Elton asks Redish how his teaching is.
“Redish told him it was going well, but that he seemed to be most effective with the students ‘who do really well and are motivated’ about physics.
“Elton looked at Redish, smiled, and said, ‘They’re the ones who don’t really need you.'”
The ones who don’t really need us are our all-star students.
The ones who need us are the Jeremys.
A professor of mine once quoted one of her educator parents to my class: “The best students and the lowest students aren’t the ones with whom you can make the most difference. It’s the ones in the middle.”
Do the Jeremys of this world get motivated by my dry textbook content? Probably not.
Are they captivated by the best of our lectures? Not usually.
They’re the ones that need us to “ditch the textbook” the most. To step into the new era of students who learn differently.
Keep your minds open and your lesson plans in pencil. Be ready to adapt. Think outside the box.
The Jeremys will thank you.
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